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Archive for the ‘Mental Health Law and Disability Law’ Category

Bye Bye Justice, Equality & Law Reform; Hello Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs?

March 23, 2010 14 comments

The  Irish cabinet reshuffle (see here, here, here and here) has resulted in the  Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform , being divested of issues relating to equality, disability, integration and human rights. These important areas will be subsumed into the new Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs. The comments below are some initial reactions to this news.

Justice, Equality and Human Rights-Why?

I do not believe in making structural changes for their own sake. Too often, changes in structures can be pursued to disguise a lack of clear priorities or the determination to implement them. This Government has a clear agenda which I am determined will be driven forward with energy and commitment. There is no time to be wasted on extensive restructuring at the expense of action to implement our policies.

An Taoiseach Brian Cowen T.D.  23 March 2010

From 1992 until 1997, there was Minister for Equality and Law Reform, however post the 1997 general election, this was subsumed into the Department of Justice (to become the Dept. of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR).This was a time of enormous economic growth within the Republic of Ireland and a number of months before the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The thrust of today’s speech by An Taoiseach’s recognised the need for a re-invigorated economy based on job creation and innovation. For reasons highlighted by the statement of An Taoiseach above, structural changes were made to a number of departments.

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Changes needed to Mental Health Act 2001

March 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Mental Health Law conferenceThe Mental Health Commission has started work on developing a Code of Practice on the Mental Health Act 2001.  The Commission seeks views on which parts of the Act, if any, further guidance should be provided on and the closing date for receipt of feedback is Wednesday 28th April.  For further information, see this page.

Meanwhile, papers and videos from the recent Mental Health Law conference at University College Cork are available here.  The conference was jointly organised by UCC Faculty of Law and the Irish Mental Health Lawyers Association.  Speakers included Mary Forde of Amnesty International Ireland, Patricia Rickard-Clarke of the Law Reform Commission, Michael Lynn, B.L., Diarmaid Ring, Mental Health Service User and Activist, Dr Mary Donnelly of UCC, Áine Hynes, Solicitor, Hugh Kane, CEO of the Mental Health Commission, Mark Felton, Solicitor, and myself.  Dr Mary Henry, former independent Senator, spoke at the book launch which followed the conference.  Each session was lively and informative, with plenty of genuine engagement between the 120 members of the audience and the speakers.  One of the many interesting slides was one from Hugh Kane about the need for reforms of mental health law, which included the following items: 

  • Urgent need for Capacity Legislation
  • Review of Section 59(1), Mental Health Act 2001 [This concerns Electro-Convulsive Therapy]
  • Section 23/24, Mental Health Act 2001 [Re-grading of patients from voluntary to involuntary status] 
  • Measurement of performance, overall impact of mental health tribunals, Section 49, Mental Health Act 2001 
  • Need for automatic independent legal representative for children admitted to approved centres, Section 25(14), Mental Health Act 2001. 
  • Definition of ‘best interests’, Section 4, Mental Health Act 2001

Standards of care: vital to safeguarding the rights of disabled people

February 2, 2010 7 comments

(* This article is co-authored with Charles O’Mahony, PhD fellow, Centre for Disability Law and Policy, NUI Galway)

According to an article in the Irish Times today, more than 500 official complaints (approx three a week) over the past two and a half years have been made regarding abuse and mistreatment of disabled people in residential settings.  The most serious incidents included allegations of abuse or physical assault by a staff member at a number of residential centres.

Currently Ireland has no mandatory standards or independent inspections for assessing care provided by residential services to disabled people.  Health Research Board statistics for 2008 show that there are more than 8,000 adults with an intellectual disability in receipt of full-time residential services. The majority of these services are provided through voluntary service providers at an approximate cost of €1.5bn to the Irish government.  Despite this volume of state funding, these services remain uninspected and unregulated.

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Inclusion should be at the heart of humanitarian responses

January 15, 2010 3 comments

The Haitian earthquake brings a stark reminder of how natural disasters can bring widespread devastation and loss to a country. This destruction is further compounded when disaster hits a country like Haiti where poverty is rife. Haiti ranks 149th of 179 countries in the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index and the majority of its citizens earn below US$2 per day.  As Haiti emerges from the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, a seemingly insurmountable task is ahead of aid agencies, NGO’s and humanitarian organisations. A global humanitarian response is currently underway, with a daunting task for agencies on the ground as they attempt to coordinate vast amounts of aid relief and get it to people who require it urgently. As with most humanitarian responses, the challenge to provide effective assistance to everyone can be difficult and this difficulty can be magnified when ensuring those with additional needs are included.

For the moment, discussions about policies and good practice may seem trivial in face of the current crisis in Haiti. It is vital in order to save lives however that there is an ongoing exchange of information and practice between mainstream humanitarian and disability organisations. It is a known fact that people with disabilities are the most vulnerable in natural disasters. A major challenge from the outset for those coordinating humanitarian assistance is the identification of people with disabilities as statistics and data remains limited for many countries. It is estimated that 7% of Haiti’s population (approximately 630,000 people) have a disability with over 50% under the age of 15. Alongside unreliable statistics, people with disabilities are generally isolated or marginalized from communities making them invisible to relief efforts. Research by the International Disability Rights Monitor after the Tsunami of 2004 found that despite dedicated, intensive and well-funded relief efforts that disabled people remained on the periphery of relief efforts. Contributing factors to this included lack of basic facilities such as inaccessible shelters (the absence of a ramp making temporary shelters inaccessible to people with mobility disabilities); and inaccessible communication systems, which spread word about food and medical distribution (informal networks of communication for most the part do not consider people with hearing impairments).

In addition to the inclusion of people with disabilities in humanitarian responses is the indisputable fact that natural disaster causes injuries, which can result in long term disability. For example, it is estimated due to the Pakistan earthquake of 2005, that 70,000 people were severely injured or disabled. These injuries can be physical resulting from spinal injuries or mental or emotional issues stemming from loss of life.

These research findings are not isolated. Advocates and disability organisations have been working to increase awareness about the practical needs of people with disabilities in emergency response situations. Partnership with humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross has proved crucial to furthering this goal. Training and models of good practice are important to raise awareness among humanitarian organisations on how to include people with disabilities in emergency response plans. Organisations such as Handicap International and Christian Blind Mission have developed toolkits, which provide advice and guidance on how to make sure responses are inclusive of the needs of people with disabilities.

Alongside advocacy efforts, legal and policy initiatives have also been developed. International organisations such as the United Nations and the World Bank have a key role to play in raising awareness with their operational staff on inclusion of people with disabilities in emergency responses. Finally, from an international law perspective, Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, on situation of risk and humanitarian assistance asks that state parties take all appropriate measures to ensure the safety of disabled people in times of natural disasters.

The Convention, coupled with policy initiatives by humanitarian agencies, and good practices by disability organisations, provides the potential for an inclusive humanitarian response that is respectful of the human rights of people with disabilities and most importantly saves lives.

China Executes Mentally Ill Man

December 29, 2009 1 comment

China has been roundly criticised for executing Akmal Shaikh, a 53 year old British national with a proven mental illness, at 2.30am GMT this morning.

Mr. Shaikh was convicted of smuggling 4kg of heroin into China in September 2007. It is understood that he believed that he was travelling to China to record a hit single that would usher in world peace and was duped into carrying a suitcase packed with heroin by his “producer” (who was working for a criminal gang) on a flight from Tajikistan to the remote city of Urumqi in Northern China. Mr Shaikh had no experience of singing in public. Mr. Shaikh’s brother, Akbar Shaikh, stated that during his thirty minute trial his brother insisted on holding his own defence and was adamant that neither he nor his family had a history of mental illness. Witnesses say that his testimony was at times “so absurd” that even the judges were laughing. Read more…

Flynn on Budget 2010: The Rights of People with Disabilities

December 10, 2009 4 comments

This is our first guest post from Eilonoir Flynn. You can read about Eilonoir on our Guest Contributors page.

Yesterday’s budget has had an obvious impact on people with disabilities by reducing disability-specific payments, such as the disability allowance and disablement pension; however, some indirect cuts, particularly in transport and education could well have a disproportionate effect on the rights of people with disabilities.

First, the direct cuts should be addressed. The reduction of the disability allowance from €204.30 to €196 and of the disablement pension from €235.40 to €226 may not seem unduly drastic; but given the additional cost of disability, these are sufficiently serious to warrant attention. These cuts run contrary to the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), particularly with regard to the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection in Article 28.

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Making the Millennium Development Goals Disability Inclusive

December 3, 2009 2 comments

The United Nations General Assembly established International Disability Day in 1998 to promote awareness of disability issues. It is observed annually on December 3rd and each year has a different theme to highlight the variety of issues faced by disabled people. These themes range from access to decent work, independent living and arts and culture. For 2009, the International Day is focusing on making the Millennium Development Goals Inclusive of disabled people.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) were developed in 2000 as a strategy for poverty reduction, and has been agreed to by all world institutions to meet the needs of the worlds poorest. However, out of the 48 MDG indicators, there was is reference to disabled people or to disability in general. Nearly 10 years later, it is now widely recognised that the MDG’s cannot reach their targets without addressing the needs of disabled people.

Disability affects a large proportion of the world’s population and disabled people are among the poorest of the poor. It is estimated that 10 to 12 per cent of the world’s population – 670-800 million people have a disability, the majority of whom, approximately 80% live in developing countries. The high level of poverty experienced by disabled people stems from their routine exclusion from social and economic life. This exclusion occurs across the globe, be that in developed or industrialised countries.  For example in Ireland, over 60% of disabled people are not in employment and in developing countries the link between disability and poverty is exacerbated.

Evidence suggests that poverty is linked with disability and that disability may aggravate poverty risk. Persons with disabilities make up 20% of the poorest people living below one dollar a day and lacking access to food, clean water, clothing and shelter (Elwan, Ann 1999).

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